7 miles - four hours
NATURE OF THE WALK : Almost entirely on soft-turfed field-paths - all the same stout boots essential.
PARK GR 635950 Park thoughtfully on the open pasture verge beside Howgill church, accessed by a road-gate, situated off the narrow minor road (originally a Roman road) three miles north of Sedbergh.
MAP Ordnance Survey OL19 Howgill Fells and Upper Eden Valley
With the first hints of Spring tentatively being revealed, most notably the early lambs dancing in the meadows, I was attracted down to the Lune valley close to Sedbergh. The Cumbrian dales at this time of year are quite amazing places to walk, with ewes and lambs in almost every field, there is fun and hope in the air. The focus of this walk is to sample a delightful valley stretch of the Dales Way. Then climbing above the woods on the west side of the Lune gorge admire the sleek-lined Howgill Fells and visit the site of George Fox’s impromptu pulpit, where, on 13 June 1652, he addressed an open-air gathering of almost a thousand people proclaiming the simple essence of Christianity. In the story of Quakerism, Firbank Fell is as near as one comes to a shrine, reflecting the personally rooted faith. The situation itself rock-exalted, exposed to the elements from every front. A place where the spirit of man and the elements may come together in a natural harmony, stripped of pomp, pride and politics.
From the charming little Holy Trinity Church (built in 1838), wander down the open roadway (spot the Lune Habitat Group notice by the beck) to the delightfully restored cluster of old mill cottages. Ignore the footpath sign which directs right between the cottages for Crook of Lune. Instead, fork left rising with the roadway above the evergreen garden hedge and steep bank arriving at a choice of gates. Take the right-hand option, thereby avoiding the cattle-grid. This farm approach leads to Thwaite, a white-washed farmhouse in a lovely elevated situation. Bear left by the large barn rounding the concrete shed to find a fence-stile above a steep pasture bank overlooking the dale bottom meadow. Turn left and follow the top of the bank beside the hedge and where this corners left, angle down the woodland path to the footbridge to meet up with the re-routed Dales Way.
Crossing the footbridge go straight up via the hand-gate and through the cobbled passage beneath the canopy - linking the facing dwellings - to enter the farmyard at Hole House. Exit the farmyard through the gate with the track and guided by the Dales Way sign traverse the brow of the open pasture to a gateway, keep the wall close left to a further signpost at Nether Bainbridge. Keep right, signed ‘Bramaskew’ to a narrow hand-gate in the wall-stile slip through and keep right with the hedged lane leading down via gates over a gill and through a pen. Follow on with the track to the island stone shed with ‘wing’ walls then continue up the open pasture to cross the ladder-stile beside the telegraph pole. Keep the wall, then hedge, left to a wall-stile at Bramaskew.
Traverse the next pasture to the left corner where slip through a hand-gate into a confined lane. Emerging at a hand-gate, follow on down by the fragmented wall to traverse the next meadow to a ladder-stile. Pass the three-way sign keeping to the Dales Way ahead via a ladder-stile, accompany the fence to a stile/gate and veer half-right to the signpost on the pasture brow joining a green drove-way down to a further signpost a short way down, now declining to pass beneath the Lune Viaduct. Restored by English Heritage for in excess of two million pounds, there is no public access onto the bridge as there are no planks on the black-painted metal superstructure. No longer a functioning bridge it serves as a powerful reminder of the ambition and grace of Victorian transport architecture, every bit as impressive, in its own way, as the contemporary Angel of the North.
Traverse the meadow to ford the beck and keeping company with the River Lune via stiles and gates step onto the main road. Turn right and very carefully cross Lincoln’s Inn Bridge, there is barely room for a car and a pedestrian to share the space. Walk on past the farm and after 80m find a footpath signed right off the road via a wall-stile. The footpath passes over the brow via two ladder-stiles to meet a minor road. Go through the staggered opposing gate rising beside the partial field boundary and where this corners, veer half-left up to a fence-stile into woodland. At the top cross the fence-stile and go up the pasture and go through the gate at the top of the next field aim for the top left gate, left of a fence-stile, enter the drove-lane leading to the cottages at Newfield. Turn right up the minor road onto the top of Firbank Fell, to visit Fox’s Pulpit, taking time to read the plaque and sense the spirit of place.
Continue with the road descending to where a bridleway is signposted via a hand-gate and stile. Follow its lead down the damp pasture via further hand-gates, a hedged lane brings down to a gate oto the Firbank road at Goodies (no sign of Bill Oddie, Tim Brooke-Taylor or Graham Garden!). But there is a footpath sign guiding you straight on down from the gate, pass by the old stone barn, admire the lovely old shippon doors to enter pasture. The bank pitches smartly down to cross the old railway trackbed, continuing to a footbridge spanning the River Lune. A lovely spot, pause mid-way across to look upstream and down and watch the agitated scurrying waters weaving through the rocks. Once over, bear left cornering to follow the beckside path, new retaining rocks have been placed here to secure the path. Arrive at Hole House footbridge, deja vu, and trace your opening strides by Thwaite to Howgill, well content with your day I hope?
Head back down to Sedbergh, the English Book Town, where find three tasty tearooms and several savoury pubs.